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The next giant leap: why Boris Johnson wants to ‘go big’ on quantum computing | Computing

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The technology behind everyday computers such as smartphones and laptops has revolutionised modern life, to the extent that our our day-to-day lives are unimaginable without it. But an alternative method of computing is advancing rapidly, and Boris Johnson is among the people who have noticed. He will need to push the boundaries of his linguistic dexterity to explain it.

Quantum computing is based on quantum physics, which looks at how the subatomic particles that make up the universe work. Last week, the prime minister promised the UK would “go big on quantum computing” by building a general-purpose quantum computer, and secure 50% of the global quantum computing market by 2040. The UK will need to get a move on though: big steps have been taken in the field this year by the technology superpowers of China and the US.

Peter Leek, a lecturer and quantum computing expert at Oxford University, says “classical” computing (the common term for computing as we know it) has been an incredible 20th-century achievement, but: “the way we process information in computers now still doesn’t take full advantage of the laws of physics as we know them”.

Work on quantum physics, however, has given us a new and more powerful way of processing information. “If you can use the principles of quantum physics to process information then you can do a range of types of calculations that you cannot do with normal computers,” says Leek.

Classical computers encode their information in bits – represented as a 0 or a 1 – that are transmitted as an electrical pulse. A text message, email or even a Netflix film streamed on your phone is a string of these bits. In quantum computers, however, the information is contained in a quantum bit, or qubit. These qubits – encased in a modestly sized chip – are particles such as electrons or photons that can be in several states at the same time, a property of quantum physics known as superposition. This means qubits can encode various combinations of 1s and 0s at the same time – and compute their way through vast numbers of different outcomes.

“If you compared a piece of memory in a normal computer, it is in a unique state of ones and zeroes, ordered in a specific way. In a quantum computer that memory can be simultaneously in all possible states of ones and zeroes,” says Leek.

To really harness this power requires an “entanglement” of pairs of qubits: if you double the number of qubits the computing power increases exponentially. Link these entangled qubit pairs together and you get a very powerful computer that can crunch through numbers at unprecedented speed, provided there is a quantum algorithm (the set of instructions followed by the computer) for the calculation you want to do.

Jay Gambetta, a VP of quantum computing at IBM, which last week unveiled the world’s most powerful quantum processor, says: “The combined system has a computational power that is much more than the individual systems.” The computer firm’s US-made Eagle quantum processor – a type of computer chip – strings together 127 qubits compared with the 66 achieved recently by the University of Science and Technology of China (USTC) in Hefei.

Gambetta stresses that the practical applications of quantum computers are not there yet, but theoretically they could have exciting uses like helping design new chemicals, drugs and alloys. Quantum computing could result in a much more efficient representation of chemical compounds, says Gambetta, predicting accurately what a complex molecule might do and paving the way for new drugs and materials. “It gives us a way to model nature better,” he adds.

There are ways in which quantum computing could help combat global heating, too, says Gambetta, by more efficiently separating carbon dioxide into oxygen and carbon monoxide, reducing the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere. Alternatively, quantum computing could help understand how we can make fertiliser by using much less energy.

Last year, IBM teamed up with German carmaker Daimler, the parent of Mercedes-Benz, to use quantum computing to model new lithium batteries. Renewable energy, pharmaceuticals, electric cars, fertiliser: if these are just some of the products that can be enhanced by quantum computing, then the UK understandably wants to be at the forefront of the market.

Once quantum computing reaches the 1,000 qubit level it should be able to achieve what IBM calls “quantum advantage”, where a quantum computer consistently solves problems faster than a classical computer. IBM is hoping to reach 1,000 qubits via its Condor processor in 2023.

The UK’s strong university system – and long history of innovation, epitomised by Alan Turing in computing and Paul Dirac in quantum mechanics – gives the country some hope of achieving Johnson’s goal. But Gambetta’s IBM colleague Bob Sutor says that for the UK and other countries ambitious in making advances in quantum computing, educations and skills are key – at university level and below, including schools. “The more people working on it, the faster we will get there.”

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Edwards Lifesciences is hiring at its ‘key’ Shannon and Limerick facilities

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The medtech company is hiring for a variety of roles at both its Limerick and Shannon sites, the latter of which is being transformed into a specialised manufacturing facility.

Medical devices giant Edwards Lifesciences began renovations to convert its existing Shannon facility into a specialised manufacturing centre at the end of July.

The expansion will allow the company to produce components that are an integral part of its transcatheter heart valves. The conversion is part of Edwards Lifesciences’ expansion plan that will see it hire for hundreds of new roles in the coming years.

“The expanded capability at our Shannon facility demonstrates that our operations in Ireland are a key enabler for Edwards to continue helping patients across the globe,” said Andrew Walls, general manager for the company’s manufacturing facilities in Ireland.

According to Walls, hiring is currently underway at the company’s Shannon and Limerick facilities for a variety of functions such as assembly and inspection roles, manufacturing and quality engineering, supply chain, warehouse operations and project management.

Why Ireland?

Headquartered in Irvine, California, Edwards Lifesciences established its operations in Shannon in 2018 and announced 600 new jobs for the mid-west region. This number was then doubled a year later when it revealed increased investment in Limerick.

When the Limerick plant was officially opened in October 2021, the medtech company added another 250 roles onto the previously announced 600, promising 850 new jobs by 2025.

“As the company grows and serves even more patients around the world, Edwards conducted a thorough review of its global valve manufacturing network to ensure we have the right facilities and talent to address our future needs,” Walls told SiliconRepublic.com

“We consider multiple factors when determining where we decide to manufacture – for example, a location that will allow us to produce close to where products are utilised, a location that offers advantages for our supply chain, excellent local talent pool for an engaged workforce, an interest in education and good academic infrastructure, and other characteristics that will be good for business and, ultimately, good for patients.

“Both our Shannon and Limerick sites are key enablers for Edwards Lifesciences to continue helping patients across the globe.”

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Meta’s new AI chatbot can’t stop bashing Facebook | Meta

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If you’re worried that artificial intelligence is getting too smart, talking to Meta’s AI chatbot might make you feel better.

Launched on Friday, BlenderBot is a prototype of Meta’s conversational AI, which, according to Facebook’s parent company, can converse on nearly any topic. On the demo website, members of the public are invited to chat with the tool and share feedback with developers. The results thus far, writers at Buzzfeed and Vice have pointed out, have been rather interesting.

Asked about Mark Zuckerberg, the bot told BuzzFeed’s Max Woolf that “he is a good businessman, but his business practices are not always ethical. It is funny that he has all this money and still wears the same clothes!”

The bot has also made clear that it’s not a Facebook user, telling Vice’s Janus Rose that it had deleted its account after learning about the company’s privacy scandals. “Since deleting Facebook my life has been much better,” it said.

The bot repeats material it finds on the internet, and it’s very transparent about this: you can click on its responses to learn where it picked up whatever claims it is making (though it is not always specific).

This means that along with uncomfortable truths about its parent company, BlenderBot has been spouting predictable falsehoods. In conversation with Jeff Horwitz of the Wall Street Journal, it insisted Donald Trump was still president and would continue to be “even after his second term ends in 2024”. (It added another dig at Meta, saying Facebook “has a lot of fake news on it these days”.) Users have also recorded it making antisemitic claims.

BlenderBot’s remarks were foreseeable based on the behavior of older chatbots such as Microsoft’s Tay, which Twitter users quickly taught to be a racist conspiracy theorist, forcing the company to apologize for its “wildly inappropriate and reprehensible words and images”. GPT-3, another AI system, has also delivered racist, misogynist and homophobic remarks. A South Korean startup’s chatbot, designed to resemble a 20-year-old college student, had to be suspended after it rattled off racial slurs and anti-LGBTQ+ remarks.

Given the cesspool that is the internet, Meta appears to have expected similar things from its own service. Before logging on, users must acknowledge that BlenderBot is “likely to make untrue or offensive statements”. As Vice notes, Meta researchers have described the AI tech behind the bot as having “a high propensity to generate toxic language and reinforce harmful stereotypes, even when provided with a relatively innocuous prompt”.

“Everyone who uses Blender Bot is required to acknowledge they understand it’s for research and entertainment purposes only, that it can make untrue or offensive statements, and that they agree to not intentionally trigger the bot to make offensive statements,” said a Meta spokesperson in a statement.

My own conversation with BlenderBot did not veer into that territory, but it did highlight another flaw in the service: its utter inanity.

The bot began by asking me what subject I liked in school. The bot is open about which “persona” it is using in the conversation; our discussion involved a persona it described as “I like to read. I went to college.” When I asked it tough questions, such as which colleges accepted AI bot students, it offered nonsensical replies (“in some ways, aren’t we all chatbots?” No) and offered further reading by saying, “Here’s the link”, without providing a link. It also kept steering the conversation back to chatbots.

It did, however, maintain its firm stance against its own creators. When I said I wasn’t a fan of Facebook’s ethics, it wholeheartedly agreed: “Me too! That is why I stopped using it and just stick with reading books instead.”



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Midwest universities unite to support US chip industry • The Register

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A dozen US midwestern research colleges and universities have signed up to a project intended to bolster the semiconductor and microelectronics industries with combined research and education to ensure work for their students in high-tech industries.

The “Midwest Regional Network to Address National Needs in Semiconductor and Microelectronics” consists of a dozen institutions, made up of eight from Ohio, two from Michigan, and two from Indiana. Their stated aim is to support the onshoring efforts of the US semiconductor industry by addressing the need for research and a skilled workforce.

According to Wright State University, the network was formed in response to Intel’s announcement that it planned to build two chip factories near Columbus, Ohio, and followed a two-day workshop in April hosted by the state.

Those plans, revealed in January, are to build at least two semiconductor manufacturing plants on a 1,000-acre site, with the potential to expand to 2,000 acres and eight fabs.

At the time, Intel CEO Pat Gelsinger said he expected it to become the largest silicon manufacturing location on the planet. Construction started on the site at the beginning of July.

However, the university network was also formed to help address the broader national effort to regain American leadership in semiconductors and microelectronics, or at least bring some of it back onshore and make the US less reliant on supplies of chips manufactured abroad.

Apart from Wright State University, the 12 institutions involved in the network are: Columbus State Community College, Lorain County Community College, Michigan State University, Ohio State University, Purdue University, Sinclair Community College, University of Cincinnati, University of Dayton, University of Michigan, and the University of Notre Dame, Indiana.

The president of each institution has signed a memorandum of understanding to form the network, and the expectation is that the group will expand to include more than these dozen initial members.

The intention is that the institutions taking part will be able to make use of each other’s existing research, learning programs, capabilities, and expertise in order to boost their collective ability to support the semiconductor and microelectronics industry ecosystems.

Challenges for the network include developing mechanisms to connect existing research, and training assets across the region, and developing a common information sharing platform to make it easier to identify opportunities for joint programming and research across the network.

University of Cincinnati chief innovation officer David J Adams called the announcement a game-changer. “This highly innovative approach illustrates that we’re all in this together when it comes to meeting industry workforce and research needs,” Adams wrote in a posting on the University of Cincinnati website.

The move follows the long-awaited passage of the $280 billion CHIPS and Science Act at the end of last month, of which $52 billion of the total spend is expected to go towards subsidizing the building of semiconductor plants such as Intel’s, and boosting research and development of chip technology. ®

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